Childbirth is a defining moment in any persons life, and brings with it mixed feelings of anticipation, excitement and anxiety. However as a woman's due date draws near a large percentage of time is spent visualising labour and how she may want her experience to play out. I'm sure I couldn't have been the only pregnant woman lying awake at night playing a million scenario's through my mind...Would the epidural hurt? Would I need a C-Section? What if the birthing pool wasn't available? Fear of labour is a common concern amongst women, especially first time mothers who don't know what to expect.
Indeed some women's fear is so strong that they are put off having children all together.Alexia Leachman founder of Fear Free Childbirth speaks openly in her blog of how her motivation to create the company arose after her first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage and her understandable devastation was accompanied with an unwanted feeling of relief at not having to go through labour.
Tokophobia, a pathological fear of pregnancy, was first diagnosed by Dr Kristina Hofberg and affects one in six women, making this surprisingly common. Split into two categories: primary tokophobes who fear childbirth before pregnancy, and those with secondary tokophobia, whose fear originates from having had a traumatic birth. Although I wouldn't classify myself as either, the philosophy of 'don't worry, once you hold your baby you will immediately forget the pain', didn't cut it for me. This theory has one major flaw because in order to hold my baby, I had to go through labour in the first place. No, I needed something more concrete, so I went on the hunt for positive birth stories to help encourage me and calm my nerves.
I initially looked to family members for advise and was often told, 'Do you know, I can't actually remember it was so long ago'. So I emailed friends, or friends of friends in the hope of hearing more positive stories... and what a mistake that was! Why do some women, after giving birth, seem to find pleasure in emphasising the more challenging aspects of their labour. It became like yellow car syndrome, when you drive down a motorway looking for a yellow car and suddenly all you can see is a field of sunshine and mustard coloured vehicles. Horror stories were everywhere. The radio was telling me statistics of emergency C-sections, the TV seemed to playing 'One Born Every Minute' on repeat and newspapers were filled with concerns of under-staffing around Christmas and New Year.
I turned off my TV, shut my laptop and considered whether it would be possible to get someone to hit me over the head with a frying pan once contractions started, so that I could wake up hours later with a beautiful baby swaddled next to me in the recovery ward. However I had to face the facts. I was not an ostrich and therefore I could not bury my head in the sand. I needed to focus on the task ahead and accept that I was going to do this. So I found ways to calm myself down.
Being a personal trainer this was my natural first step. I already had a high fitness level but I decided to start training specifically for labour. A strong core and pelvic floor is hugely beneficial for childbirth. The second stage of my labour ( the pushing phase) lasted only 30 minutes as I was able to maximise the efficiency of each contraction. Exercise during pregnancy can seem daunting to some but there is still so much you can do when pregnant and remaining active is advised. Not only has exercise been proven to improve a persons mood and combat anxiety but working out during pregnancy meant I was able to stay in tune with my physical strength, allowing me to build confidence in my abilities.
I'm a flappy person. I don't like sitting still and I have no time to visualise a forest or lake when I'm actually in a hospital. I do however practice yoga postures and the mental focus of the art. I knew I needed to find a way to stay calm and control my breath in labour so I began training myself to sit still for just 5 minutes a day. Physically I was restricted due to my bump but mentally I used my yoga training to access a part of my mind which enabled me to keep a steady controlled breath and relax my body.
Being Open To Options
How you plan your labour is your own personal preference but I'm sure most mothers will agree that to a certain extent you need to go with the flow. It was this that scared me the most. I thrive off routine and love a list so asking me not to plan is ridiculous. However I did accept that I would need to remain open-minded. Whether you choose to use medication is completely up to you but investigate all options. Keep a note of your decision and make sure you've discussed your options with your birthing partner. My main aim was to enjoy the process and I was open to accepting help in order for that to be possible.
Since giving birth, and having had a really positive experience I decided it was time to spread the word and help other mothers-to-be through this tricky time. Meeting women such as Alexia and hearing how she decided to use her experience to create a platform where women can form a positive association with labour, has been instrumental in paving the way for fear free childbirths. Now mother of two Alexia says ' I'm all too aware how difficult it is when you're pregnant to find content that is not scary. You're never far away from a horrible birth story from well-meaning friends, I want women to have a place to come to where they can hear positive birth stories from real women, It's amazing how something so simple can have such an impact.'
Labour is by no means easy but having a positive childbirth is possible and I think more should be done to encourage women to enjoy their experience. Discussing your options, focusing on your inner strength and physically preparing you body are all great ways to approach labour with a positive mindset, open arms and an open heart.